Untreated hearing loss: A growing epidemic
This WSU Newsline Podcast is available at http://www.wichita.edu/newslinepodcast. See the transcript below:
You’re listening to the podcast edition of the Wichita State University audio newsline. Learn more about WSU on the Web at wichita.edu.
Hearing loss might be most common among older adults, but hearing loss is a growing problem for young people as well. In fact, the number of Americans with hearing loss is staggering, according to Wichita State University audiologist Ray Hull.
Hull: “Untreated hearing loss in adults is a growing national epidemic. Over 36 million adults in the United States have impaired hearing.”
The incidence of hearing loss increases with age. About one third of Americans between 65 and 74 and nearly half of those over age 75 have hearing loss. Hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic health condition facing older adults. Unfortunately, only 20 percent of those individuals who might benefit from treatment actually seek help. But Hull says hearing loss is not just a problem for the elderly.
Hull: “The growing epidemic is occurring not so much among the elderly population of the United States, but the younger population, those who are in high school, those who are in middle school, those who are in college and beyond.”
Hull notes at least two contributing factors to the problem of hearing loss.
Hull: “A primary contributing factor, well, actually there are two. Number one is that of noise. We live in a very noisy society. And number two involves the incidence of cardiovascular disease, or the health of the general cardiovascular health of adults.”
So why don’t more people with hearing loss seek help? Hull explains.
Hull: “I think more people don’t seek out help for their hearing or their hearing loss because hearing loss is an invisible disability. We can see impaired eyes. We can see impaired arms or legs, but impaired hearing we cannot see.”
Most people tend to delay treatment until they cannot communicate even in the best of listening situations. On average, hearing aid users wait more than 10 years after their initial diagnosis to be fit with their first set of hearing aids. According to Hull, the problem is that, without getting help, people with hearing loss may be misunderstood or misdiagnosed.
Hull: “Up to a point, hearing loss is an invisible disability because you can’t see it, but a point is reached fairly quickly where it is a visible disability because of the inability to understand what people are saying. People are misdiagnosed, for example, as becoming senile, which can be a definite problem. Or people seem to be confused as they are listening to others.”
The good news is that more alternatives are available to help those with hearing loss.
Hull: “There are a number of alternatives for people that will assist them if they do experience hearing loss. And it doesn’t mean always having to buy hearing aids. There are a number of other alternatives, including television listening devices that offer a great help to people and can resolve some family difficulties when one family member likes to have the television set louder than others would like for them to.”
Hull encourages people to get their hearing checked annually.
Hull: “Don’t wait until you’re 65 to get your hearing checked, because hearing loss is an epidemic among young people, also. It would be best to have your hearing checked annually just like we have other aspects of us checked. Have it checked by an audiologist, or an ear, nose and throat physician, and you’ll know that it’s a reliable examination.”
Frank Lin with the Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health, said, “There’s still a perception among the public and many medical professionals that hearing loss is an inconsequential part of the aging process and you can’t do anything about it. We want to turn that idea around.”
Thanks for listening. Until next time, this is Joe Kleinsasser for Wichita State University.